人才公园: the new new coastline

Several days ago, I walked from Coastal City (海岸城) to Shenzhen Talent Park (深圳人才公园). Previous walks–now long ago and far away, and besides that was a different city–had me wandering the reclaimed land behind Coastal City. However, the new coastline is as firmly in place as anything on shifting sands. What’s more, its a popular destination for families and this popularity deserves comment. After all, people are walking from the old new coastline (at roughly Houhaibin Road) to its newest coastline, a walk that takes at least fifteen minutes one way. Below are images that give a sense of the layout of the new park. In the maps, the purple line is Houhaibin Road, the approximate old new coastline. Continue reading

blooming contradictions

Unfortunately, more often than not modernization leaves us with street names instead of actual landscape features.

Shenzhen public landscaping, for example, has been defined by its enthusiasm for inaccessible green space that adorn its roads. Throughout the city, there are lovely swathes of topiary and grass that pedestrians (and even birds) can’t actually access except in passing. In part to rectify this problem, but also in response to the city’s white collar residents, a vast network of bike trails have been installed throughout the city. Moreover, these trails have been mapped and the public encouraged to walk and ride through the cities green belts.

Here’s the moment of ecological dissonance: at the same time that functionaries are being encouraged to bike on the weekend, plans have been announced to reclaim 39.7 sq kilometers of Dapeng Bay. The corporate culprit is China Oil, which intends to use the reclaimed land for extracting South China Sea oil reserves. And yes, these plans are moving forward despite the fact that Dapeng New District is an environmental conservation district.

So pictures of the Nanhai (literally “South Ocean”) Road, below and a link to an article about the land reclamation project, here.

What’s in a name, indeed.

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garden city

Spring in Shenzhen brings memories of dustier grasses and bluer skies. 18 years ago, I lived next to a construction site, and the low cost local ornamentals and creepers flourished in moderation. We breathed construction dust and navigated street floods (or “accumulated water” as I have learned to say in Mandarin). But the skies, if organic and digitalized memory serve, we’re blue and vast and clear.

Yesterday I ate brunch on the Intercontinental patio and had an afternoon tea-becomes-dinner meeting at 1 Haiguan Rd. Once upon a developmental time, both were located near Shenzhen Bay. When built in 1982, the Intercontinental perched near coastal oyster beds and provided visitors and investors in the OCT and Shahe Industrial Parks with simple accommodations. That same year, there was no restaurant at the top of “Microwave Hill” as the site of 1 Haiguan Rd is known. Instead, it was the site of the first local (difang) broadcast tower in post Mao China. The tower broke through tree cover to send and receive signals from Hong Kong, which was just across the water. It symbolized a new communication independence from Beijing, but not too much independence; the simple two-story border guard tower still stands.

The original Intercontinental has been razed and in its place a 5-star Spaish-themed hotel stands. Outside is a galleon, while inside the male staff wear bull fighter costumes and the restaurant hostesses sashay in modified flamenco dresses. The patio area has imported flora, a black marble pool with multi-color goldfish, and a break in the lush green buffer that opens to a virtual beach area. The coastline, of course, is now pushed back, placed on the southern edge of the Binhe Expressway and the narrow Shenzhen Bay Park, which stretches along the reconstituted coastline. 1 Haiguan Rd is the physical realization of another chapter in the same history, albeit land reclamation-in-progress to accommodate a larger port area and a yacht marina. The interior of the border tower has been fitted with stage lights that create the nostalgic centerpiece of an elaborate and fragrant garden.

I enjoyed both outings. I was with generous and creative friends, with whom I often collaborate. All have helped with 302, and all are interested in contributing to the cultural life of the city. Moreover, they are truly willing to share what they have. It is a joy to be with them.

And yet.

Our friend dropped us off at our late 80s compound of boxy concrete low rises, crumbling compound floor, local plants, and ordinary pavilion with tacky pseudo-imperial glazed tiles. The combined cost of yesterday’s two meals was more than my monthly rent. Sometimes, my increasing sense of distance from ever-growing areas of the city provokes anxiety. Sometimes it hooks into my sadness about the forms of social segregation that are being built into the city. Last night, the contrast made me nostalgic for a dustier, more industrial Shenzhen, when large tracts of undeveloped land were still accessible for exploration and amenable to common dreams.

Photos taken at 1 Haiguan Rd, where the changing Shekou coastline is visible from the third floor gardens.

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old trees

It’s true, there’s a category of cultural relic known as “old tree (古树)”. These old trees root the community in histories that stretch back to the late Ming Dynasty (early 1600s). Moreover, their beautiful limbs create poetic interludes throughout the remnants of Shenzhen’s old village homesteads. Buildings may decay through lack of care, but the trees grow despite threat of urban renewal.

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luohu culture park: the antidote to mall-burbia

DSCI0079 I prefer early Shenzhen urban planning to the rush to mall-burbia that is the current trend. Early planning assumed small scale, low cost urban living that promoted street life. In contrast, mall-burban developments raze central areas of the city to build large scale, high cost gated communities and attached mall, where security guards keep out the riff raff, effectively suburbanizing densely populated urban areas.

Luohu Culture Park (罗湖文化公园) exemplifies the latent urbanity of early Shenzhen planning. The 2,000 sq meter park includes underutilized cultural infrastructure, a lake, and my favorite kind of public art — a sculpture that children can easily appropriate. Continue reading

梧桐山:poetry in the world

Climbing Wutong Mountain, actions speak, names resonate, and language, well, language fails us.

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environmental upgrades and other ironies

The Futian River has been channelized into a rainwater runoff and waste streams. The rainwater flows above ground, creating a walking area, which winds through the Municipality’s central park. The waste stream flows through underground tubes, unseen and unnoticed, unless one manages to the wastewater treatment center further downstream. The effect of separating the streams has been to create a cleaner environment, literally burying the problem.

Now, whether or not a Shenzhen river can be separated into rainwater runoff and wastewater tubes depends on the level of industrialization upstream. Thus, for example, the City efficiently handled the relatively underdeveloped Yantian River (in the East), while remains undecided about what to do with the Buji River. Consequently, lest we forget that water quality remains an issue throughout the city, upon crossing the silvery clean Futian River into Tianmian, one encounters literally hundreds of plastic bottles of drinking water.

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Meilin: historic footnotes

Located between Lianhua Mountain and the ridge of low-lying mountains that once marked the second line, Meilin interests for several reasons.

First, Meilin completes the central axis in the same way that Hong Kong does – as an historic footnote. Meilin and Hong Kong are the implicit extensions of Shenzhen’s ideologically charged central axis, which announced the SEZ’s transition from an industrial manufacturing economy to a financial service and high-tech research and development economy. However, Meilin was built for functionaries in the 80s and 90s, and realizes the scale and type of residential area to which SZ once aspired. Likewise, Hong Kong was the orientation of SEZ globalization throughout the 80s and 90s, but like Meilin, it was globalization on a different scale. Shenzhen’s post axis global aims have long since reached beyond Hong Kong.

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Second, the integration of Shang Meilin and Xia Meilin New Villages is neat because handshake building scale was the scale of 80s and 90s neighborhoods. Continue reading

Shenzhen Bay Park

The rough edges of the Shenzhen Bay Western Area Landfill Zone, or Houhai (Backwaters) are being smoothed into upscale coastal parks. In fact, the construction is so fresh, seashells and oyster shells still surface in the sod. Yesterday, I walked to the Shenzhen Bay Park, which extends from the western edge of Mangrove Park and used to be a small harbor called Dongjiaotou, where goods and building materials were shipped to and from Baoan County and earlier incarnations of Shekou. Importantly, this upgraded coastline functions like so many parks in Shenzhen; the pleasantness of the park literally covers and symbolically blurs what it took to get here; and in this visceral sense, urban planning and landscaping are ideological practices. Impressions of Shenzhen Bay Park, below. Photos of Dongjiaotou Harbor Area and bluer skies from 2003.

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back online

Back. And yes, coming into Hong Kong International Airport, I noticed the extensive advertising for the Universiade, more wonderfully, blue skies welcomed me. Limiting the number of cars in Shenzhen and shutting down factories makes the environment more beautiful. I am looking forward to walking the city over the next few days and enjoying clarity.